This Is Not Art According To the Government
Over this past weekend, many Facebook feeds in Singapore were flooded with news that the authorities have arrested a 25-year-old woman, the ‘Sticker Lady’, for allegedly painting the words “My Grandfather Road” on some roads in Singapore.
Last time, we discussed how Singapore is the land where Freedom of Speech comes to die. This week we’ll be talking about how much the government hates vandals.
Welcome to this week’s “Banksy Should Never Come To Singapore” edition.
“My Grandfather Road” is a Singlish (an English-based creole language spoken in Singapore) phrase, referencing to how the country is overly regulated by the heavy-handed government. It is an honest commentary on the state of the affairs here.
The artist responsible for “My Grandfather Road” is also responsible pasting a series of humorous stickers around the country hence the name “Sticker Lady”. Her works of art have gone viral on many social networks here and have been well received from the public.
If convicted of vandalism, she could be fined up to S$2,000 (US$1,550), jailed up to three years, or both. Historically, Singapore has never been kind to vandals.
In 1994, Michael Fay, an American teenager was sentenced to four months’ jail and six strokes of the cane for two vandalism charges. In 2010, Swiss expat Oliver Fricker was sentenced to five months’ jail and three strokes of the cane after pleading guilty to infiltrating the train depot and spraying graffiti onto the trains.
Many people, myself included, view this arrest as an exercise in suppression of creativity. This is an original Singapore street art. The artist did not break into any buildings or destroy anyone’s property, rather her works are witty, satirical and often hilarious.
As much as I love her works, it is undeniable that she broke the law by defacing public property. On the other hand, her pieces contribute to the local cultural life and arts scene. For awhile, it was fun to go around the country, trying to spot her works and having a laugh, feeling like you are in on the secret, and hiding it all from The Man.
What I don’t understand is why the government is afraid to give its people an environment that allows them to break some unwritten rules and challenge convention. There should be less restriction for public art. Whoever that says art can only be found in galleries clearly have not seen this.
The Singapore government has poured billions of dollars building the new ArtScience Museum, hosting exhibitions by artists like Andy Warhol and Vincent Van Gogh, all in an attempt to make the country appear cultured and worldly. This arrest seems to be making them look the exact opposite.
This is an opportunity for the government to make a choice. They could either let her go with a light fine, provide an area for street artists to share their art (I am sure the hundreds of dull grey back alleys could do with a little color), or chuck her in jail with the others who dared to be critical of the government.